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It’s that time of year. The flowers are blooming. Bees are buzzing. Your kids are excited about Spring Break. For many, Spring Break is a rite of passage where families travel, spend time together and reconnect. It has been a time to explore your hometown with a Staycation, join the extended family at the beach or family cabin, or take your kids to tour colleges (that’s what we do in my house). 

However, this year is much different than those in the recent past. Now, we are social distancing, dealing with Shelter in Place orders and the nature of self-quarantine. We finally have a routine and good rhythm around our work and homeschooling. Instead, now it is interrupted by Spring Break.

The purpose of Spring Break is for us to reconnect and spend time together.  We have had more togetherness in the past 3 weeks. I’m not sure if I can handle any more family togetherness. Plus, I have the added pressure that I am not off. I still have to work.  

What am I going to do? I have to keep them occupied but I also have to keep up my work productivity. Are you asking yourself, “Do they even need Spring Break?”  Or does it fill you with anxiety: “What am I going to do with them? I still have to work.” It’s Spring Break, but no camps, no vacations, no nothing.

Create a plan It’s important to understand that nothing is normal now, including school. But our children have been thinking about Spring Break since Winter Break. Have a conversation with your family. If you have plans to travel, keep your days off and create a Virtual Staycation. If the beach was your destination, bring the beach to you. Get creative. On the other hand, if you have to work, tell your children that you as a family will have to keep some semblance of a routine, but you will create intentional moments of fun.

Have Fun There is a plethora of ideas and activities for families. For my family, we plan to take virtual college tours for my rising senior. If your family likes art, several famous museums are conducting virtual tours. Have dinner and a movie where dinner is themed around the movie that you watch. An added bonus is to allow the kids to help set the menu and/or cook the meal. If work is still on the agenda, make time in the evenings to have some fun. If the evenings are still full, Spring Break it out on the weekends.

Stick with a Schedule Working or not, Spring Breaking or not, it’s important for our children to have a schedule – for them to wake up, go to bed, have meals at a similar time. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but it will help you get back to the new normal of homeschooling and working from home after Spring Break.

This year Spring Break may not be filled with cruises, princesses or well-loved rodents (Mickey). I encourage you to find ways to bring Princesses and Mickey to your home. It doesn’t matter that things are different. Yes, they are. Our children will only be children for a small amount of time. Yes, the days are long, but the years fly by. We should enjoy the time that we have with them. Betcha some toilet paper that this will be the Spring Break they are still talking about years from now. Appraise, Adapt, Achieve.

There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. Your parents won’t be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don’t feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn’t going to report you and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

We asked some recent college grads what most surprised them about their freshman year, and here are some things they wished they had known:

ROOMMATES

95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, so you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other’s differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

ABOUT YOUR PARENTS…

They may only be a phone call away, but they shouldn’t be coming onto campus to do your laundry, making sure you get to class, nagging you to study or setting up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your chance to take advantage of what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

BE PREPARED TO:

  • Know how to do your laundry.
  • Live on a budget.
  • Manage your time. Don’t let the freedom go to your head.
  • Go to class.
  • Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.
  • Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend. 

ALCOHOL, DRUGS… AND SEX

No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at the drug and alcohol scene. You may choose to stay away from it, but your roommate might not. (And it can definitely impact your relationship…) If you do choose to participate, don’t underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or even better – take somebody with you.

You should familiarize yourself with your college’s sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like. Think about your boundaries ahead of time. 

Maybe you want to do some things differently at college, or perhaps there are some friendships you know you need to leave behind. Freshman year is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take this time to become who you really want to be and surround yourself with people who will help you reach your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that’s the case. If you ever feel like you’re in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you adjust to campus life.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 16, 2019.

The average college student will graduate with about $37,000 in student loans, but few students really think about repaying that money after graduating. In fact, many new college students haven’t thought much at all about money management, much less paying off student loans at the end of their four years.

Results from a survey of 455 college students by LendEdu found that:

  • 58% indicated they are not saving anything.
  • 30% indicated their parents taught them nothing about managing money.
  • 51% received no financial education in high school.
  • 43% are not tracking their spending.

Bryan Bulmer, Coordinator for Financial Wellness at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, knows this all too well. He has worked with college students to help them learn financial literacy.

“There are two kinds of students I typically see in my office: students who have been taught about money management and have grasped the concepts and those who really have never been shown the impact of money or lack thereof,” says Bulmer. 

In his student presentations, Bulmer uses a giant Jenga game to show the impact of frivolous spending. For example, buying that cup of coffee each day Monday through Friday is about $100 a month. After four years, the student will have spent $5,000 on coffee alone.

“That usually gets their attention because nobody ever thinks about how much that small amount adds up to over time,” Bulmer says. “Our goal is to help them know how to be wise with their money.”

When Bulmer asks students how many of them want to move back home after college, he says not a single hand goes up. However, 60% of them do move back home. Plus, a whopping 39% of them will still be living at home into their mid to late-20s.

Studies show that annual take-home pay for the average recent college graduate is around $36,000. Bulmer breaks this down for his students this way: If you have a car, college and credit card payments, that will probably take about $1,000. That leaves you $2,000 for everything else including rent, which is usually another $1,000.  So that leaves you only $1,000 for groceries, car insurance, internet and such.

“Pretty quickly the students begin to realize that while it sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t if you don’t learn how to manage it well,” Bulmer says.

If you want to help your college student be financially literate, Bulmer suggests that you:

  • Involve the student in the family finances. Let them see what it takes to keep the lights and water on, the cost of Wi-Fi and keeping the refrigerator filled with food.
  • Talk with them about how credit works. Credit card companies are notorious for stalking freshmen and older college students with deals that are too good to be true, and plenty of them fall for it only to find themselves in debt way over their heads. They often have no idea how to get out.
  • Teach them the basics of money management (e.g. banking, paying bills, safe use of debit cards, MobilePay, ID theft and such).
  • Address student loan requirements. If your student is taking out student loans, make sure they know what this means in four years. Some students are not aware that they have student loans. This should not be a surprise to them when they graduate.

Having a college degree gives many people an advantage. According to the National Financial Educators Council, studies show college graduates will earn almost a half-million dollars more over their lifetime than someone who has not received their college degree. But, if they have no concept of personal finances and how to manage the money they are earning, it will be of no benefit to them. 

“All of our students who come into our office that are financial literate give credit to their parents for helping them be literate,” Bulmer says. “Statistical information says 34 percent of students feel financially literate and that 37 percent of parents share financial literacy skills with their students. I believe those numbers show parents are the number one provider of financial literacy skills in the lives of their children.”

Give your kids the edge they need for future success by teaching them how to manage money wisely now, regardless of their age. 

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 21, 2019.

How is it that summer just started, yet the school supplies are already out in stores? In a few short weeks that will feel like they fly by, your baby will be headed to kindergarten. At this realization, in the midst of a little freak-out and hidden tears, parents will try to put on a brave face as they leave their little one in someone else’s care.

Preparing for that day is important not only for your child, but for you as well. A month may seem like a long way off, but when it comes to establishing new routines and rituals, it’s actually the right time to put things in motion.

Bedtime: For example, if bedtime has been at 8:30 or later during the summer months, but a 7:30 bedtime will be in place during the school year, moving bedtime up in 15-minute intervals from now until the school year starts will help your child adjust and keep the drama about it still being light outside to a minimum. As a side note, blackout curtains might be a great investment.

Routines: Consider what morning and evening routines will be like, especially if this is your first child to head off to school. It can be unsettling for children when everything is changing, so it’s helpful to think about routines and rituals like a security blanket. Children find real comfort in predictability. If you put things into motion now, it will help your child feel more confident on that first day of school. For instance, practice getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast and figuring out the best order to accomplish those tasks and any others that must be done before leaving for school. Adapting your evening routine to how things will be during the school year will help as well. 

After school: Being at school and holding it together all day long is exhausting. Your child might come home from school and want to take a nap or they might have a meltdown, especially as they are adjusting to their new routine. Comfort them and help them put words to their emotions. In time they will adapt and adjust.

Independence: Remind yourself repeatedly to let your child do for themselves what they are capable of doing. Things like dressing themselves, putting on their shoes and velcroing or tying them, going to the bathroom, pulling their pants up and even buckling a belt are important to know how to do. If they are planning to buy their lunch at school, let them practice carrying a tray with their food and drink from somewhere in the kitchen to the table. That balancing act can be a little tricky. If they are taking their lunch, teach them how to pack it themselves. If they are riding the school bus, practice walking to and from the bus stop together.

Practice: Make practicing these things fun by turning them into a relay race or a game. When you do that, you’ll be giving them a strong foundation to stand on as they head to school.

Organization: Work with your child to find a location in your home where all things school-related live like backpacks, homework or notes that need to be signed. Helping them get in the habit of placing things in one location will make mornings easier for everyone.

Read: Start reading with your child daily (if you aren’t already). Even if you aren’t a fantastic reader, just holding a book, pointing out pictures, colors, numbers and words, or teaching your child to turn the pages from right to left will help prepare them for kindergarten.

Other adults: If you have told your child they don’t have to listen to anyone but you, now is the time to change that. When your child is at school they will need to be able to listen and follow instruction from their teacher and others. Additionally, if you have never left them in someone else’s care, try to arrange some time between now and the first day of school where they are in the care of other trusted adults. It is good for them to know that others can take care of their needs, and teachers will appreciate that you have helped them practice listening and following instructions from other adults.

Technology: This year will be different for your child, so consider a technology plan for your home when school starts. They will be expected to sit, listen and engage in activities, but screen time  is probably the last thing they need when they get home. Instead, playing outdoors in the fresh air can help them release stress and relax.

Emotions: While you might be excited about your little one reaching this milestone, it would also be normal for you to feel some anxiety. Most of our children can read us like a book. If you are feeling uptight about the beginning of school and trying to hold that inside, your child will likely pick up on this and think you are not OK or that you do not want them to go to school. Acknowledging that and talking with other parents who are ahead of you on the journey could be extremely helpful to you and your child. 

Thinking about all that needs to happen before school starts may feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, if you start now, you will already have your routine down by the time school starts. Both you and your child can head into the first day of school with confidence and great expectations for the school year.

In 2010, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department-STEP One conducted an independent study which found that many Hamilton County students who relied on the breakfast and lunch programs during the school year were going hungry in the summer.

“Less than 7 percent of the children enrolled in the food program through the schools were actually receiving assistance during the summer months. Several community leaders, John Bilderback, Carol Ricketts and myself realized what was happening to these children in our community, and it became our mission to do something about it,” says Rush, who is now the director of the James A. Henry Community YMCA in Chattanooga.

The USDA says that more than 12 million children in the U.S. live in “food insecure” homes. These families don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life, according to No Kid Hungry. This doesn’t always mean there is nothing to eat, though. It can mean that children get smaller portions than they need or that parents aren’t able to afford nutritious foods.

To help feed these children, Mobile Fit began in 2011 as a partnership between the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of School Nutrition, the Hamilton County Health Department, YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga and the YMCA of the USA.

“The YMCA of the USA had just partnered with Walmart to help YMCAs across the country address food insecurity in their community through seed grants,” says Rush. “Our group considered this prime opportunity to address the issue here locally. Our first year the YMCA opened seven sites and they served just under 200 meals a day. Through the years, however, the program has evolved and grown like crazy.”

Kids Count data for 2017 indicated there were 20,840 Hamilton County school children enrolled in the food programs. The YMCA partners with Hamilton County Schools, Northside Neighborhood House, Girls, Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs and many other non-profit organizations to prepare and distribute 7,000 meals a day from kitchens in Hamilton, Rhea and Bradley counties. There are 130 summer sites and 87 after-school sites, and since launching in 2011, the food program has prepared and delivered more than 2 million meals – 750,000 in the last year alone.

“The meals get to all of the different sites in a variety of ways,” says senior program director Laura Horne. “In addition to the school-based locations and partner agencies, we have 25 Mobile Fit sites that pick up meals and deliver them to parks and apartment complexes Monday through Saturday. I love that we provide food for the children, but that’s not all we do. Children who come to eat also get to participate in activities, learn about water safety and STEM, and we can connect both children and parents to helpful resources.”

For example, one mother of four whose husband had recently left her was having difficulty with her two older boys. In addition to feeding the four children, the Y was able to take the boys on a canoe trip and connect them to Tech Town where they attended a camp.

Packaging 7,000 meals takes a lot of hands, but it’s not just about the meal; it’s about connecting the kids with the resources they need, building trust and healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for encouragement.

“It takes about 250 volunteers to make this happen during the summer,” Horne says. “We have some volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. Small groups, religious organizations and school groups have come to help us. What I love about this program is it not only provides for people in need in our community, it also provides a place for people to give back.”

If you would like more information about this program or want to be a Food and Fun volunteer, call Laura Horne at 423-805-3361 or email her at [email protected].

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 28, 2019.

Many parents feel pressure to make sure their child is actually kindergarten-ready. But, are they really focusing on the things that ultimately prepare their child for future success?

Knowing their name, being able to tie their shoes and going to the bathroom by themselves are important for sure. But did you know that social competency skills such as being able to listen, share material with others, solve problems with their classmates, cooperate and be helpful are every bit as important, perhaps more so?

Researchers from Penn State analyzed 753 children in Durham, N.C., Seattle, Nashville and rural Pennsylvania and found that children who were more likely to share or be helpful in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later. Kids without these social competency skills were more likely to face negative outcomes by age 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment or run-ins with the law.

The researchers found that for every one-point increase in a student’s social competency score, he or she was:

  • Twice as likely to graduate from college;
  • 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by age 25.

For every one-point decrease in the child’s score, he or she had a:

  • 64 percent higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
  • 52 percent higher rate of binge-drinking;
  • 82 percent higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and an
  • 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.

The research shows that high-quality relationships and rich social interactions in the home, school and community prepare children well for the future. Never underestimate the importance of a stable home in the life of a child.

No matter your child’s age, you can help them learn what they really need to know. Parents and extended family, child care providers and neighbors – everyone really – can help young children develop these social-emotional skills.

Try these strategies to help children develop social/emotional competence:

  • Let them figure out how to solve their own problems (within reason).
  • Instead of making decisions for them, help them make decisions.
  • Teach them about emotions and help them understand other people’s feelings.
  • Give them opportunities to learn what it looks like to share with others.
  • Provide experiences where they can be helpful.
  • Teach them how to express themselves appropriately with direction.
  • Be intentional about giving them instructions and helping them follow through on what you asked them to do. This will serve them well when it comes to listening and following instructions in the classroom.
  • Give your child the chance to engage in activities with others where they learn to cooperate without being prompted.

Providing these opportunities is beneficial, far beyond kindergarten. Although it may be easier for adults to make these things happen for their children, easy isn’t always best. Step back and see what they can do – that’s some of the best kindergarten prep you could ever do.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 17, 2019.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

Stop and consider the potential negative consequences of underage drinking. Is it really worth the price your teen might pay, either immediately or in the future? In reality, poor choices in high school and college can absolutely impact a young person’s future in powerful ways. 

Underage drinking is associated with a number of negative consequences such as: using drugs, getting bad grades, poor health, engaging in risky sexual behavior, making bad decisions and even suffering injury or death. Talk often with your teens about the dangers of alcohol. Making your expectations known today may cause them to think twice about taking a drink tomorrow. 

Check out these stats on underage drinking from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2016 study and the The Centers for Disease Control.

  • 7.3 million young people under the age of 21 drank in the last month. 
  • 30% of high school students drank in the last 30 days.
  • 14% binge drank in the last 30 days.
  • 6% drove after drinking alcohol, and 17% rode with someone who had been drinking in the last 30 days.
  • 61.5% of high school seniors and 23% of 8th graders had tried alcohol at some point. 
  • More than 4,300 kids die from alcohol-related incidents each year.
  • Approximately 119,000 people under 21 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for alcohol-related injuries annually.

Underage drinking is also associated with unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sexual activity, disruption of normal growth and sexual development, and physical and sexual assault.

Here are some factors that may increase the risk that a teen will use alcohol.

  • Significant social transitions such as graduating to middle or high school;
  • Getting a driver’s license;
  • A history of social and emotional problems;
  • Depression and other serious emotional problems;
  • A family history of alcoholism; and
  • Contact with peers involved in troubling activities.

Here are 6 ways you can prevent underage drinking:

  1. Stay actively involved in your children’s lives.
  2. Know where your children are and what they are doing. Make knowing their friends a priority.
  3. Set and enforce clear standards, including standards about alcohol use.
  4. Stay away from alcohol in high-risk situations. For example, do not operate or allow others to operate a vehicle after drinking alcohol.
  5. Get help if you think you have an alcohol-related problem. If you keep alcohol in your home, do not make it easily accessible to others.
  6. Don’t allow underage drinking in your home or provide alcohol for anyone who is under legal drinking age.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 28, 2018.

The beginning of the school year, for some, actually feels more like a new year. Families are getting acquainted with new schools, new teachers and new schedules, not to mention a buffet line of new opportunities for extracurricular activities. If parents aren’t careful, they will have kids involved in three different activities, going in opposite directions. As a result, what little family time there was is now non-existent.

How many times have you found yourself grabbing the kids from school, running by a fast-food place for dinner and heading out to practice with one child trying to finish homework in the car and the other throwing on their practice clothes? Many parents have resigned themselves to believing this is life as we know it and the goal is to survive.

Before your family life becomes a runaway train, consider what is best for your family when it comes to afterschool activities and the amount of time you spend together. Many loud voices will tell you all the things your child needs to participate in for future success. Certainly, extracurricular activities can make your child’s life richer, but they can also create additional stress and anxiety for the entire family.

When you rarely sit down for a meal together or have the opportunity to connect, relationships can suffer. Plus, trying to keep up can be exhausting. So, how much is too much?

Here are some suggestions from kidshealth.org to help you manage activities and family connectedness:

  • Set ground rules ahead of time. Plan on kids playing one sport per season or limit activities to two afternoons or evenings during the school week.
  • Know how much time things require. Does your child realize soccer practice is twice a week or more, right after school? Then there’s the weekly game. Will homework suffer?
  • Set priorities. School comes first. If kids have a hard time keeping up academically, they may need to drop an activity.
  • Know when to say no. If your child is already active but really wants to take on another activity, discuss what needs to be dropped to make room for something new.
  • Stay organized with a calendar. Display it on the refrigerator so everybody can stay up-to-date. And if you find an empty space on the calendar, leave it alone! Everyone needs a chance to just do nothing.
  • Even if kids sign up for the season, let them miss one or two sessions. Sometimes hanging out on a beautiful day is more important than going to one more activity, even if you’ve already paid for it.
  • Try to balance activities for all of your kids — and yourself. It hardly seems fair to expend time and energy carting one kid to activities, leaving little time for another. Take time for yourself and spend time together as a family.
  • Create family moments. Plan a few dinners when everyone can be home at the same time.

Family time is a precious commodity, and your children will grow up in the blink of an eye. Plan now to set your family priorities, avoid unnecessary activities and be intentional about spending time together as a family. 

“I was excited about going away to college,” said Grace Hopkins. “I have basically done everything my entire life with my sister. This will be the first time for both of us to be on our own for an extended period of time.”

As excited and prepared as Grace thought she was, she experienced some rude awakenings as a freshman.

“My parents made it a point to teach us how to do laundry, clean our rooms and manage money. I thought I was totally prepared for being on my own,” Grace said.

“It was kind of a shock when things like time management and budgeting got the best of me. I have always been good about managing my time, BUT I was with friends who were also excited about the newness of college and wanted to have fun first. They encouraged me to have fun and I let some things fall behind.”

Even though Grace budgeted her money before she went to college, she wasn’t used to having to pay for everything herself.

“It was just so tempting when your friends wanted to go grab something to eat,” Grace shared. “I figured out pretty quickly that if I kept spending money like this,I was going to be broke before we made it to midterms.”

Grace is in good company. Many college freshmen have struggled with exactly the same issues. Here are Grace’s thoughts on what she would say to her freshman self:

  • Time management is key. “As a freshman, you will want to do it all and experience as much as you can but you have to consider your responsibilities first. You don’t want to wake up at exam time and realize that you are really behind.”
  • Get involved. “I joined a couple of clubs. That was a good way to meet people outside of the people you meet at orientation. It’s a great way to get to know some upperclassmen.”
  • Be prepared for the “roommate thing.” “I had not shared a room with someone in many years so it took some getting used to,” said Grace. “We put together a roommate contract the first day about things like expectations concerning bedtime, who could be in the room and when. Even with the written agreement, there were still challenges.”
  • Beware of the little expenditures. “Everything adds up real quick.”
  • Getting enough sleep makes a huge difference. “Staying up with friends until 2 a.m. and having to get up for a 9 a.m. class did not work out real well for me.”

Many teens are anxious to transition to this new phase of life. On the outside, they act confident but on the inside they are wondering: Am I really prepared?

Encourage your teen to take Grace’s advice. Help them with strategies for balancing their newfound freedom and responsibility.

Discuss potential risks and the difficult choices they may have to make. Mistakes are inevitable, but you can prepare and empower your teen to enter into their freshman year with confidence. In the end, experience will be their best teacher.